April 11, 2012
here’s no shortage of energy bars, gels, and drinks on the market today. But sometimes the best way to fuel up during an endurance event is with the foods that are already in your kitchen, says Nancy Clark, R.D.
, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook
. “Sometimes energy gels and specialty foods upset people’s stomachs once they go for a run,” she explains. “But people are used to whole foods already.” And often time, those are the best options, anyway. “There are many cheaper, more natural alternatives to manufactured foods,” says Laura K. Stewart, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at Louisiana State University. Here are five to try on your next race day.
“Dried fruit is easily digested into glucose, which is what your body needs to sustain itself during a race,” says Clark. And raisins are an especially good option because they’re so small. (Dried mangos and apples can also work.) A new Louisiana State University study found that when cyclists ate raisins, their finish time, power, and perceived exertion weren’t any different from when they ate Jelly Belly Sport Beans, a specialty item. The research examined cyclists, but Stewart, the study’s lead author, says that raisins could help runners, too.
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Your body loses electrolytes when you sweat, says Clark. So when you’re running a long race, you need to replenish them by drinking something other than water. That’s why sports drinks are so popular: they contain sodium, a key electrolyte. But they aren’t your only option. By mixing tea (which contains caffeine, a stimulant) with honey (which contains sodium and potassium) you can also create an effective endurance drink, says Clark. Try green tea: A recent Colorado State University study found that the brew’s main antioxidant (EGCG) can help raise your VO2 max, a measure of how well your body uses oxygen.
Switching up your diet is just one way to boost your speed and endurance. Check out The Secret to Running Faster for the easiest trick to better times.
Don’t worry about the lack of nutritional value, says Clark. “Your body just wants to survive the race.” Marshmallows are easily transportable chunks of sugar. Plus, they’re light and airy, which shouldn’t upset your stomach. Shoot to eat about 150-300 calories per hour, depending on what your body needs. Which brings us to another point: When you’re training, practice fueling up with different foods, says Clark. You don’t want to find out that something upsets your stomach 3 miles into a race.
Pretzels are made up of refined carbohydrates, says Barbara Lewin, R.D., a sports nutritionist. This kind of carb is quickly digested, which will boost your blood sugar levels during the event. Plus, they’re also relatively high in sodium, that crucial electrolyte.
Another optional homemade energy drink? Diluted OJ, says Lewin. What makes it so great is that it’s already high in potassium (another electrolyte), so adding a little bit of sodium makes it especially effective. Try 16 ounces of orange juice mixed with 16 ounces of water and topped off with 1 teaspoon of salt.